Sunday, July 23, 2017
There are stages of survival after treatment ends. There is no time frame for how long each section lasts, and of course we are all different and some people may or may not experience these stages. These stages are simply from my experiences.
Withdraw from doctor's visits: this was a strange phenomenon for me as I had become so accustomed to visiting my doctor every week and seeing a home nurse and checking into the hospital every 22 day of the chemo cycle I was on. Being an intensive cancer patient was my normal for 8 months. I was surprised that I missed seeing my doctor and being checked on constantly. It was a strange feeling and I was scared to be on my own.
As I became accustomed to being outside in the real world again, I had to recognize my energy levels were different. I was EXHAUSTED and as the many, many drugs worked their way out of my cells, I also HURT. Often, my afternoons were spent in a recliner, crying and in pain. I was done with treatment, so why all the pain?? These were moments I did not share with many outside my family as I wanted to present a STRONG STEPH to the world. I wanted to show people I was a survivor.
HAIR As it came back, my hair was curly. I had been bald for so many months, I was HAPPY, oh so happy to have hair again! What does someone do with curly hair? I had straight hair my entire life and now I had curls. These curls were temporary, but I had them long enough to give me beauty anxieties about what do woman do with curly hair?
As I dealt with new hair and long afternoons of crying... there was another side affect of cancer that was absolutely horrible, and the new normal here was with my daughter. She suffered terribly when I was sick and this resulted in depression that required hospitalization for suicide attempts. She was in a dark dark place after the cancer and many other sad events in her life. Depression is REAL and this sadness needs to be addressed by therapy and sometimes medication to help with your brain's chemistry. If you are suffering from extreme sadness from your treatments or a family member is exhibiting sadness...please get professional help! These feelings can be dealt with by a therapist or with small prescription of anti depressants. ASK A PROFESSIONAL FOR HELP!
Once the crying was under control and I realized I was going to LIVE I had huge moments of EUPHORIA. I wanted to scream and shout, "I AM ALIVE!!" My energy levels were returning and after almost 2 years, the pain was subsiding. I FINALLY felt well. It was a LONG road to this and I definitely rode emotional roller coasters of feelings regarding fighting cancer.
For Us Ladies
SO, this topic is for the ladies, as we have different changes due to chemotherapy. I apologize if you have had radiation, as I am actually unfamiliar with that... it was the ONE cancer treatment I did not have. Our menstrual cycles are JACKED UP after all the chemicals. We are often thrown into menopause immediately during the chemotherapy (as I was) and there is not a lot of info out there for us concerning how chemotherapy affects our bodies. Oncologists jobs are to get rid of the cancer. SO, when I was in treatment I experienced a LONG menstrual cycle right after the first treatment. ( I want to share that my treatment was different as I was in the hospital for 5 days the as the 3 chemotherapy medicines and the 2 immunotherapy medicines were administered all at once and my side affects were STRONG and the list was LONG. Others may have not experienced the same.) That was to be my last cycle for a long time. After treatments ended I had a couple menstrual cycles sporadically. After 2014, they were just about over, then I had one last year. IT FREAKED ME OUT because it has been 2 years since the last one! I share this personal info because I think the bottom line is that chemo sends our reproductive parts into a tizzy and when you are REALLY CONCERNED see your doctor. I did and was told i was post menopausal. At 47 years old I did not like those words...but it is the cost of beating cancer.
Fighting cancer causes FEAR and PARANOIA and you will often worry that the cancer has returned. When our bodies are full of chemicals, there are a lot of SIDE EFFECTS that cause pain, fatigue, depression, and overall exhaustion. The new normal for those of us who fought cancer is to have gratitude for being alive and being vigilant for recurrences. We become experts in any new treatments and have to keep ourselves from googling too much about statistics for surviving.
There will be people who tell you to "get over it" and some may roll their eyes when you talk about cancer. I talk about cancer to 1) to give empathy to others who are facing this awful disease and 2) GIVE HOPE to others because I was dying with stage IV melanoma that had spread from an original stage I diagnosis to a 16 cm in my left armpit and then to my lungs and pelvis.
REACH OUT and talk to other survivors and talk to your doctor and know others have been there! Your new normal will become more normal as time passes.... that I can promise!
Strong Steph currently 6 years NED!!